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STC Computing Devices

Contributed by Mark Ollard
Friday, 03 October 2008

The computers of the 41st Millenium are in one sense complex and sophisticated machines, yet in other ways they seem
contrived and horribly crude. Why? The answer to that conundrum lies at the heart of the technology used to build them,
and thats what this article will discuss.

The Nature of Imperial Computing Technology

The computers of the earliest days of the Imperium became very sophisticated, and according to legend, very
independent of their users. It was recognised however that many citizens of the Imperium simply had no idea how to use
or program such a machine, and that the need to use one was always a possibility. For these reasons, those men
designed a modular system of computer hardware and programming as part of the Standard Template Construction that
even a layman could use. The idea is that software isn't written in detailed codes, but assembled from logic blocks that
performed simple tasks and decisions, and in many ways the system resembled a virtual flow chart. In effect, the difficult
job of programming was already done.

The STC software system was designed to be childs play. Although it may seem crude and inefficient, its possible to link
these blocks together into networks of actions and decisions in very sophisticated ways. For those who need simpler
tasks, a modest program might be linked together in minutes. The Legio Cybernetica employ this STC system to program
their battle robots, though it must be said, they only have access to a limited number of different blocks, require very little
sophistication, and we were honest, it must be noted they aren't terribly enlightened about their work. The means by
which these blocks are linked is dependent on the hardware it occupies. The Adeptus Mechanicus often build circuit
boards that house a single logic block, or perhaps a more sophisticated 'black box' containing several if its known that
certain logic must be utilised when the machine is designed. These components are then wired together and the wires
themselves form part of the decision network, so you can imagine the frightening complication of adapters, wires, micro-
fiber bundles, power cables, data ribbons, relay grids, inter-nodal conduits, distributor racks, switch frames, and so on.

The Interface and the User

Connected to these basic elements are peripherals, interfaces, controls. There is no standard way of setting up a
computing device, save only that it does what the creator desires and only that. The means of getting the device to do
what you want varies too. For some devices, the logic blocks are linked by variable controls, such as buttons, levers,
wheels, touchpads, or interactive holo-displays. Although this idea would be the basis of something more general
purpose, such installations are by their nature much more complex to use and trained technicians become necessary to
handle the crude control they exercise. in effect, the more complex machines require skilled 'drivers'.

Some require a dedicated and knowledgable staff of thousands such as the extraordinary Macro-Analysers of the
Administratum collating sites. Most devices are functionally simpler than that. There are many systems that handle
mundane functions with but a touch of a single button. A collected set of buttons, often called a 'keypad' or 'keyboard'
might be used to control the device. Sometimes a touch-screen, or hand-held devices that act as extensions of the limbs.
Sometimes special sockets are fitted that require a servitor to operate it. Some advanced devices utilise vox-interpretors,
spinal links, or in rare cases, mind impulse units.

Maintenance and Repair

In many ways the technology involved is basic as far as the user is concerned. The 'black box' approach means they do
not concern themselves with the detailed binary languages, if indeed such things are still understood in the 41st
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If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If its broken, find another or cobble something together that does the same job. Mainteneance
and repair is as simple as that. Armed with a blueprint of the device, the technician can literally follow the flow chart
through the physical devices and locate the module that is causing the problem. Setting up the replacement module and
connecting it correctly is largely something they learn by rote rather than any intrinsic understanding.

Storing Data

Data storage can vary too. Simple hand-written notes suffice for basic machines, but for those occaisions when far
greater data storage is necessary a whole plethora of connectible devices are possible. Punch cards, tape readers,
magnetic disks, solid-state memory, data-streamers, holo-crystals, specialised servitors, or even bio-synaptic networks,
are all potential memory containers, and whilst some are small and conveniently carried in the palm of a hand, one might
like to consider the largest disk drive employed by imperial statiticians at almost a kilometre in diameter, with several
hundred thousand readable layers, requiring several dedicated power plants to maintain operation. An entire continent
supports its use. Stories of larger components than that persist in myth and legend.

The Sentient machine

Artificial Intelligence is not so easily constructed by these methods, partly because the system isn't designed for that
application, but also because of the ridiculous number of logic blocks that would be needed to create anything truly
sentient. So it should be clear that whilst some clever devices can communicate to a user in some limited form, by
printed text, screen display, or audio, they only follow a rigid pattern of alternatives, and for the novice user of such a
device to process will be frustrating.

The reader is no doubt aware that artificial intelligence does exist. Many of the sentient machines are very old, and built
to a far more sophisticated level than the remnants of STC generally used in the 41st Millenium. There is a distinction
between sentient hardware and intelligent software. The hardware version functions as an electro-mechanical brain, and
whatever programming it uses, its the physical design that makes the sentience possible. Devices like these are readily
tested when found, and if sanctioned by the Adeptus Mechanicus, become highly valuable assets. Intelligent software is
another matter. By its very nature, it is 'portable' and thus intrinsically independent of the machines it inhabits. There are
horrific stories of servitors connecting to machines that harbour such things, and finding themselves controlled or even re-
programmed by the AI. By and large, this adaptability and potential to spawn copies and grow is of deep concern to the
Adeptus Mechanicus, who often go to great lengths to isolate AI programs or even eradicate them.


Clearly the machines are going to vary enormously in capability and reliability. What must be stressed is the imperial
technology, such as it is, remains trapped in a dark age, and for that reason the devices and programs they construct are
no more complex than the tasks for which they are designed and built.

For imperial computing then the following points should be borne in mind.

- The Imperium is in a technological dark age. Some know how to connect the boxes together, but the boxes are

- The technology is deliberately simplified but very crudely exploited. Devices are built up almost like childrens building

- There are no standard computers, only standard components. Computing devices tend to be basic customised designs
and not multi-functional.

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- The methods of internal connection are labyrinthine, so reliability of the system is not assured.

- Computing devices are readily expandable, if you know which connection to make.

- Many devices require expert users, some devices require entire cohorts of specialised technicians.

- Programming, or re-programming, is simply a matter of changing the relationship between logic blocks provided you
know which block does what.

- The means of interacting with any given device might be a simple button push or a mind-meld. Or simply handing in a
signed request form in triplicate to the operators and waiting a century or two in the queue.

- The components available to technicians depend on supply, or what part of the ancient STC catalogues they can

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